Authors: Cathy Gillen Thacker
“Then you better find a way to get Cartwright in line,” Ed ordered flatly.
Her knees had turned to jelly. Like it or not, Madison had to sit down before she fell down. Doing her best to look calm and in control, she eased into her chair, dropping her notepad on her lap. “I’ll book a flight to Wyoming immediately.” Despite the fact she was sitting down, the rubbery feeling in Madison’s knees intensified and her stomach began to take on an increasingly queasy feeling.
Ed jerked loose the knot of his tie and gulped coffee like it was going out of style. “ I don’t have to tell you how much money is at stake here.”
Just thinking about the potential loss of revenue for the agency made Madison grimace.
Ed, who was nothing if not a straight shooter, folded his hands in front of him and told her bluntly, “Land the account for us, Madison, and the VP slot opening up in September is yours—no question. Lose it and...” Ed let his voice trail off.
The sick feeling inside Madison moved up to her throat. There was no helping it; she was going to have to cut this meeting short. “Excuse me—” Leaping from her chair, her hand over her mouth, Madison dashed from Ed’s office.
* * *
the pressure to succeed around here making people sick,” Kit Smith remarked, “but this is ridiculous.”
Madison looked up from the rim of the commode in the executive washroom. Her copper-haired colleague with the maternal air wet a paper towel and hunkered beside Madison on the gleaming marble floor. Wordlessly, Kit helped Madison—who was perspiring profusely—take her suit jacket off. She hung it over the back of the door and returned with a paper cup of cold water that she pressed into Madison’s hands. “Uncle Ed said you ran out of his office, your hand over your mouth.”
“It had nothing to do with what we were discussing.” Ignoring the tears seeping from the corners of her eyes, Madison pressed a cold, damp paper towel to the back of her neck.
“Good. Because I wouldn’t want you to worry about me usurping the VP slot. I want one, too, now that the twins are about to enter college. Make no mistake about that. But not in your place.”
Kit knelt beside Madison. “Think it was something you had for lunch?” she asked gently.
“Maybe.” Madison took a small sip of water, rested her forehead on her upraised hand. She sighed. This wasn’t the first time she’d battled nausea recently. “Then again, maybe it’s just stress. I’ve been feeling strange for weeks now.” Deciding she felt better, Madison struggled to her feet with Kit’s help.
Kit helped Madison, who was now shivering slightly, put her jacket on. “Ill how?”
Madison shrugged and walked, albeit a little unsteadily, to the sink. “Woozy, dizzy, tired.” She bent and rinsed her mouth, then rummaged around for the travel-size toothbrush and toothpaste she carried in her purse. “All I want to do is sleep.”
Kit shook her head. “If I didn’t know better, kiddo, I’d think you were pregnant, but you’d need a man in your life for that. Unless—” Kit paused. “You didn’t go the artificial insemination route, did you?”
No. But she had recklessly made love with Chance at what would have been her most fertile time of month, Madison realized uncomfortably. They’d used a condom, of course. But...was it possible? Pushing the unsettling thought away, Madison threw the paper towel in the trash, put her toothbrush and toothpaste back in her purse.
“Maybe you should see your doctor before you head back to Wyoming,” Kit suggested.
“Good idea,” Madison said. One way or another, she had to know.
* * *
shining brightly as Madison drove through the gates of Chance Cartwright’s Double Diamond Ranch shortly after noon the next day. The meadows in the distance were alive with tall yellow grass and multicolored wildflowers, and the tops of the granite mountains were white against the bold blue of the summer sky. Late July, it was hotter than it had been when she had been there before, the temperature inching into the eighties. As Madison neared the house, she saw a van from the Lost Springs Ranch and a group of teenage boys in T-shirts, boots, jeans and hats mucking out stalls and grooming the horses with long, patient strokes. Chance was standing in the pasture closest to the house, instructing two of his part-time workers as they exercised his horses. They looked as if they were having the time of their lives. Chance looked equally happy. Until he saw her, that was.
He said something to the boys, then turned and strode toward her as two blue jays swooped down on them from overhead and disappeared in the cottonwood trees by the ranch house.
Her heart racing, a million butterflies jumping around inside her stomach, Madison emerged from the car, deliberately keeping her sunglasses on. Wanting to immediately telegraph the fact she’d come to make peace with him, she’d taken care to dress in jeans, boots and cotton shirt. Still, her hands were sweaty as his long legs ate up the ground between them.
Sweat dripped down his face, and the fabric of his blue chambray shirt was damp in patches. He was more deeply suntanned than he had been the last time she had seen him. And there was a wariness in his eyes when he looked at her that was new, too.
He tipped his hat in cursory politeness as he neared her. “Miss Burnes.”
Madison nodded, dismayed to realize he wasn’t nearly as happy to see her again as she was to see him. Because despite everything, she still desired him. “Mr. Cartwright.” Her tone was the low, exceedingly pleasant one she reserved for her most difficult clients.
He regarded her grimly. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
Madison gave him a parody of a smile as she whipped off her sunglasses so he could see her eyes. “I figured if you’d known I was coming, you would have been sure to duck out.”
Chance rubbed his jaw and tried not to grin at her cheeky attitude. “Missed a few of your phone calls, have I?” he taunted.
“As well as a command appearance in Dallas.”
Which you very well know.
He let his gaze rove insolently over her from head to toe, and Madison drew a long breath. She figured she might as well be blunt. It didn’t matter if this was awkward. Or something she’d rather not do. She wasn’t going to be like her father. She wasn’t going to lie just to make things easier and less complicated for herself. Because dishonesty never worked. “You know you could be fired as the Ranchero spokesperson for behaving this way.”
“Is that a fact?” Chance drawled, not the least bit upset by her warning.
Temper simmering, Madison stepped closer until they stood toe to toe. Was this what it was going to be like—Chance passively resisting her at every turn? “We had a deal, Chance,” she reminded him bluntly.
As Chance looked at her, Madison had the sharp suspicion he wanted to haul her against him until they were situated like lock and key. “I agreed to sign your papers so we’d have more time to spend together.”
“In bed,” Madison guessed grimly, sure she knew where all this was leading.
“And out of bed,” Chance said, looking very much as if he wanted to make long, slow, passionate love to her again. “When you made it clear that wasn’t going to happen—” he shrugged his broad shoulders restlessly “—you might say I lost interest.” The corners of his mouth tilted up. “I’m never a very good worker when I lose interest.”
“So find a way to get interested,” Madison advised curtly, infuriated to find he was not going to keep his promise to her. She’d thought—erroneously, it appeared—that Chance was different from most men in that respect.
Chance looked at her from beneath the brim of his hat. “Now, Miss Burnes,” he scolded facetiously. “Are you propositioning me?”
“No!” Madison retorted, apparently too quickly and vehemently to be believed.
His sexy smile widened at the growing heat in her upturned face. A challenging gleam appeared in his blue eyes. “Then why are you here?”
Madison blew out a thoroughly exasperated breath. “Because I’m trying to save my career.”
The mirth faded from his eyes as swiftly as it had appeared. “Knowing you,” he said disparagingly, “I’m sure you’ll find a way.”
He took her by the arm and started to lead her to her car. Aware he was about to suggest she leave, Madison dug in her heels. She didn’t want to tell him this now. She knew he’d perceive it in the worst possible way. But she’d come all this distance and she had no choice. If there was even a slim chance the news would make him the least bit cooperative, for all their sakes, she had to use it. “I’m pregnant.”
For a moment, Chance was utterly still. His grip on her arm tightened, his fingers strong and firm. “You trying to tell me it’s mine?” Disbelief edged his ruggedly handsome features.
“You trying to tell me it’s not?” Madison retorted.
Chance blinked. “We were only together once.”
As if she needed reminding of that! Not a night went by that she didn’t dream about what it had been like to lie in his arms and make wild passionate love with him, or wake up yearning to do it all again. And again.
“And we used protection!” Chance objected.
“Tell me about it!” Madison muttered. She’d been as stunned as he was by the test results.
“Then how—” Chance demanded roughly.
Madison shrugged and threw up her hands. She’d had a little more time to think about what was happening, come to terms with the situation. It did seem as though the fates were conspiring against them by continuing to pair the two of them together, despite the fact they were anything but a match made in heaven. “Your guess is as good as mine. Although,” she mumbled, beginning to get embarrassed at the frank talk, “my doctor said no method of birth control is one hundred percent foolproof. Sometimes these things just happen, he said. And this just...happened, Chance.”
Chance was silent. He continued to study her, looking every bit as stunned as she’d felt upon receiving the news. Finally, he said, somewhat indifferently, “Given the circumstances...” He paused, cleared his throat. “You sure it’s mine?”
was uncalled for, Madison slapped him across the face.
Chance stepped back, looking as shocked as she was by what she’d done. He rubbed his face. “Guess so,” he conceded.
Abruptly aware they had an audience of young workers, Chance frowned. “We can’t talk here. Not without being interrupted, anyway. Let’s go down to the south pasture. I need to check on Shiloh. Go get in my pickup truck.”
“Just do it, Madison. Now.” He stalked off toward the gaggle of Lost Springs boys in his employ.
Fuming at the imperiousness of his order, Madison stormed to his battered pickup and climbed inside. She watched as he said something to the boys—something that apparently explained why he was going off with her—then grabbed a halter that had been looped over the corral fence and headed toward her. By the time he had tossed the halter in the back of the truck and climbed behind the wheel, the boys were already back at work.
Wordlessly, Chance drove the quarter mile to the pasture where Shiloh was grazing alone, well away from the other horses. “Okay.” He cut the motor and jumped out of the truck. After grabbing the halter, he circled around to help Madison out of the truck. Together, they headed for the pasture gate. “I’m listening.”
“There’s nothing else to say,” Madison stated, a lot more calmly than she felt. Emotion rippled through her, tightening her insides. “I just thought you should know you—and I—are having a baby and that baby will be born nine months to the day—most likely, anyway—from the time we were together.”
Chance frowned. “I don’t want kids, Madison. I never have.”
Madison paused, aware her heartbeat had sped to triple time. Struggling to maintain her equilibrium, she slid her hands in the back pockets of her jeans and forced herself to look at him. “I’m not asking you for anything.”
“Not even child support?”
Madison shook her head. “I don’t need it. But at some point when he or she is much older, our child may want to meet you at least once. I thought you should be prepared for that.”
The self-assured speech she had practiced over and over in her head on the way there fell flat. Chance’s lips tightened. “What happens if I decide I want to be involved in this?” he asked mildly, studying her closely.
Panic flared in Madison’s chest. The two of them couldn’t get along for two seconds. The only time they had gotten along was when they were in bed. Madison stepped away from him. “Be realistic, Chance,” she counseled softly. “We live in two different states, hundreds of miles apart.”
Chance leaned against the pasture fence. Lazily, he hooked his heel on the bottom rung. “There are planes, trains and automobiles. Not to mention buses and horses and—”
“Fine, then.” Madison cut off his recitation and put her sunglasses on, less to shield herself from the hot afternoon sun than to veil the emotion in her eyes from his coolly assessing gaze. “You can come and see your child whenever you want,” she announced in the interest of fairness. “I won’t stop you.” Although she couldn’t imagine it happening very often at her behest. Every time they saw each other, she’d remember how glorious their passion had been and be tempted to get into bed with him again.
Behind Chance, Shiloh began to approach slowly, a step or two at a time, occasionally nickering soft and low and bobbing his head.
Chance motioned to the magnificent black stallion, calling him over, then smiled tightly at Madison. “How generous of you.”
Madison stiffened. Why was he making this so difficult? “I thought so,” she told him coolly.
Chance continued to study her closely. “I guess this means you’re planning to keep the baby and bring it up yourself?” he said, in a low, inscrutable tone.
“Of course.” Once Madison had gotten over the shock—and because she was such a practical person, that hadn’t taken long—she’d been deliriously happy about the baby she was expecting. Having Chance involved, of course, complicated matters immensely. But she was sure she could handle the situation as long as she approached it like any other business problem, coolly and with determination and a commitment to do whatever was necessary to make things work out.